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Tuesday, September 23, 2014
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Published: Saturday, 2/22/2014 - Updated: 7 months ago

Drivers mull cost of potholes

Filing claim to pay for repairs might not be cheapest option

BY TYREL LINKHORN
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
Potholes litter all three lanes of Anthony Wayne Trail in Toledo. The city says it has filled 12,664 potholes since the first of the year. In the meantime, motorists must weigh the cost of filing a claim compared to paying costs out of pocket. Potholes litter all three lanes of Anthony Wayne Trail in Toledo. The city says it has filled 12,664 potholes since the first of the year. In the meantime, motorists must weigh the cost of filing a claim compared to paying costs out of pocket.
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Not even giant slalom gold medalist Ted Ligety could avoid this year’s potholes.

They’re everywhere. Lurking in the dark, hiding under puddles, masked by turns. Hit one and you’ll know it, in the seat of your pants — and in your wallet.

Though many auto insurance policies do cover damage from potholes, experts say people may be better off paying for it out of pocket than filing a claim.

Those repairs don’t come cheaply.

A couple of years ago, State Farm Insurance did a survey that found repairs from pothole damage on average cost between $300 and $700.

While minor damage can cost less to fix, Trent Harp, the manager of Smitty’s Automotive and RV Service on Jackman Road, said they often see repair bills running from $350 to more than $1,200.

“I had a guy in here with a Dodge truck a couple weeks ago who hit one with two tires. He needed two wheels at $575 apiece and two tires at $250 apiece,” he said.

Even then, it may not be worth going through the insurance company.

“You really need to weigh the pros and cons of filing a claim,” said Mary Bonelli, a spokesman for the Ohio Insurance Institute. “The best bet would be to get an estimate on the damage before you file a claim. There’s a good chance you may not file one based on the level of damage caused to your car.”

Most insurers treat pothole damage as a collision. Because of that, drivers are faced with meeting their deductible first. Depending on the policy’s deductible and the amount of damage, drivers may not get much or even any repairs covered.

Beyond that, there’s a chance that the insurance company could raise your rates because you now have a collision on your driving record, said Paul Johnson, vice president at Brooks Insurance in Toledo.

“There’s a threshold there that says you might as well take care of it yourself because you’ll pay for it in the long run, and you end up with a small claim on your record,” Mr. Johnson said.

Ms. Bonelli at the Ohio Insurance Institute also said that could affect premiums, though it varies on a case-by-case basis. Some policies have minor accident forgiveness, while others give rewards and discounts to drivers who don’t file claims.

“It may or may not affect your future premiums depending on the type of policy you have and your driving record as well,” she said.

Mr. Harp said most people they service are hesitant to involve their insurance companies.

“A lot of people are weighing back and forth. Is it worth the $200 that I’m going to save? And everybody’s big fear is, if I have a claim, the insurance company in the long run is going to get it back,” he said.

For the most part, the damage potholes inflict is limited to banged up tires and broken rims.

Jerry Dunne, owner of Edge Automotive in Sylvania, hasn’t seen much suspension damage this year. He suspects one reason might be that the poor weather and prevalence of potholes may have people keeping their speeds down and not hitting the little craters quite so hard.

And while some people may need their cars put back in alignment, for a lot of folks, that will have to wait until spring.

“Everybody’s been so busy, it’s been triage getting the car back on the road,” he said.

Drivers do have the option of filing claims with the city or state, but successfully receiving a payout is rare.

Essentially, a driver must prove that the city had received notice of a pothole and failed to respond in a reasonable amount of time, or responded in a negligent manner. They also must first have filed a claim with their own insurance company unless the damage was less than their deductible.

A city spokesman told The Blade that an exact count of claims filed with the city this year for pothole damage wasn’t available Friday, but said it numbered in the hundreds.

No claims have been paid out.

The city did have a count of the number of potholes it has filled since the first of the year: 12,664.

Contact Tyrel Linkhorn at tlinkhorn@theblade.com or 419-724-6134 or on Twitter @BladeAutoWriter.



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